Relax! Your Baby Will Thank You!
Part 2 of a 2-part series.
Effects of Traumatic Events continued...
Yet another study published in the journal Developmental and Behavioral
Pediatrics in 2003 found that anxiety-related increases in the mother's
heart rate had a direct impact on the fetal heart rate. More specifically,
researchers from Columbia University linked changes in fetal heart rate to the
mother's cardiovascular activity after experiencing psychological stress as
well as anxiety. This, they say, indicates that emotional ups and downs may
affect the baby's biology and could hold a key to fetal development. Still,
many doctors say this is not quite enough evidence to draw a clear correlation
for all women.
"These studies can be difficult to interpret because too many factors
can influence the outcome. Right now it's an association we need to pay
attention to, but not a cause," says Bruce Young, MD, a professor of
obstetrics and gynecology at NYU Medical Center in New York City.
High-risk pregnancy expert Andrei Rebarber, MD, agrees. "It's an
interesting phenomenon, but admittedly, we don't have great markers from what
we know thus far," says Rebarber, an associate professor at the Mt. Sinai
School of Medicine in New York City.
That said, when stress does a play a role, Rebarber believes it's most
likely long-term chronic anxiety and tension that is of most concern.
"The basic idea here is that the maternal response to chronic stress
compromises various hormones during pregnancy, including causing higher levels
of CRH [corticotropin releasing hormone], in conjunction with cortisol and
other stress hormones, to cross the placenta," says Rebarber.
It is this cascade of events, he says, that appears to affect premature
labor and birth, possibly affecting the growth rate of the baby.
Pregnancy and Acute Stress: Important Links
While most experts agree that any truly detrimental effects of stress are
likely to be the result of long-term or chronic stress, what about those
life-changing events that happen suddenly?
Hobel says it's not something most women have to worry about.
"No matter how severe, if it's just one episode, most women can handle
it, particularly if they have a good support system, with family members,
spouses, and friends helping them through the trying event," says